Sproutel and Aflac unveil robotic companion for children with cancer

PROVIDENCE — Providence R&D workshop Sproutel Inc. has manufactured a “smart” robotic companion, My Special Aflac Duck, for children who are fighting cancer. Aflac Inc. unveiled the smart duck at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 8.

“For 22 years, Aflac … demonstrated a commitment to help families facing childhood cancer, including contributing more than $120 million to this cause,” Aflac Chairman and CEO Dan Amos said in a statement. “We are taking this commitment to a new level … Our goal is to put a My Special Aflac Duck in the hands of the nearly 16,000 children in the U.S. who are newly diagnosed with cancers each year, free of charge, so that no child ever has to face cancer alone.”

My Special Aflac Duck won a CES Innovation Award in the Tech for a Better World category at the show.

The interactive smart duck features naturalistic movements and “plays,” to help distract children with cancer who may be undergoing treatments and multiple doctor visits. The innovation, Aflac says, is the result of a year of child-centered research and has four patents pending.

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The smart duck is aligned with a web-based app allowing the duck to emulate the children’s moods, undergo the same therapies, or dance, nuzzle or quack.

“On average, childhood cancer treatment lasts more than 1,000 days, and we thought there must be something we can do to help alleviate some of the burden,” said Aaron J. Horowitz, CEO and co-founder of Sproutel. “We want to empower children by giving them a friend who can help them express their emotions.”

Aflac and Sproutel will begin delivering the My Special Aflac Duck to children at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for further testing. The smart companion is expected to be available to children with cancer nationwide toward the end of the year.

“For the first time in brand history, Aflac is allowing its beloved icon to come to life through innovative technology focusing on comforting kids, while leading a social movement around childhood cancers,” Kathelen Amos, president of The Aflac Foundation Inc. said.

Sproutel works with medical experts to create innovations like My Special Aflac Duck and Jerry the Bear — an interactive companion for children living with Type-1 diabetes created in part with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributor.